Megapixels, Shmegapixels: How to Make Great GIGAPIXEL Images With Your Humble Digital Camera

6/6/08Follow @wroush

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used a telephoto setting to take 42 extreme close-ups of the church, a lovely nineteenth-century Northern Italian Gothic structure built from local Roxbury puddingstone. To put PTGui’s image-recognition capabilities to the test, I dumped all 42 pictures into the program at once and let the software sort out how they fit together. It did so without difficulty, with the exception of a couple of tiles that showed nothing but sky and clouds, which I had to reposition manually.

Old South Church Mosaic, Before Vertical CorrectionThe resulting mosaic, of course, suffered from the same keystoning as any single image would have—but one of PTGui’s marvelous features is that you can drag the entire mosaic around vertical or horizontal control lines, which has the effect of warping the appropriate areas of the mosaic until all of the vertical or horizontal edges are parallel. The result is a mathematical fiction, but somehow looks much more pleasing to the eye. To see what I mean, look at these views of my mosaic before and after I applied the vertical-line correction.

I haven’t yet put my full Copley Square panoramas and Old South Church mosaic up on the Web, because the trial version of PTGui doesn’t allow you to save images. (I captured the images you see here directly from my computer screen using the Mac’s Grab utility.) I had almost made up my mind to plunk down the 79 euros ($126) that New House Internet Services charges for the full version of the program when the PTGui website went offline. (I wonder if they’re hosted by The Planet?)

Old South Church Mosaic, After Vertical CorrectionI’m sure I’ll buy the software, or some similar program, pretty soon, as I can feel an itch developing to be part of the community of hundreds of gigapixel photographers who are sharing, exploring, rating, and annotating one another’s images at GigaPan. Travel- and nature-related photos seem to be the most popular: indeed, this 240-megapixel image of the Grand Canyon demonstrates just how much detail can be packed into a mosaic (you can see ripples on the Colorado River from miles away). One of the coolest features of the GigaPan site is the ability to isolate “snapshots” in other people’s mosaics and post them alongside the main image, almost as if they were comments on a blog post; the feature frequently leads to a sort of game in which site users race each other to point out funny, obscure, or surprising details that aren’t visible until you zoom way in, the same way Google Earth users collect instances of nude sunbathers on rooftops.

Given Moore’s Law, it wouldn’t be a shock to see gigapixel image sensors turning up eventually in consumer-level cameras. But until that day, super-high-resolution photographers will have to stick to the software equivalent of the quilting bee, stitching individual panels together into massive panoramas or mosaics that only appear as if they were unified images. The reward can be a picture so finely featured that you feel like you can keep zooming into it forever, as if you had Superman’s telescopic vision. Now that’s high definition.

Update 6/6/08: Related to gigapixel imaging is the technology of Deep Zoom being developed by Microsoft Live Labs, using its Silverlight and Seadragon technologies. See this nice PC Pro article and the Hard Rock Cafe demo it references (you’ll need to install Silverlight on your computer to make it work).

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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